A changed Vick is a better player
When Michael Vick goes to his locker, three words stare him in the face: Walk Your Talk.
Vick is doing exactly that these days with the Philadelphia Eagles. He has revived his career and is taking steps to rebuild his image.
Vick walks the talk by showing up early at the team's practice facility, studying hard and putting in the long hours that make quarterbacks successful.
Vick walks the talk by staying humble, even though he's putting up impressive numbers and playing like an MVP candidate - and even better than the guy who once had a $130-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons that was the richest deal in NFL history.
Vick walks the talk by spending time on his off days working with the Humane Society of the United States and speaking to school and community groups about the cruelty of dogfighting.
''I'm just doing what I feel like I promised myself I would do, what I'm obligated to do, and I enjoy doing it,'' Vick said. ''I'm just trying to do things that I feel like in my heart I should be doing.''
Just in case he needs it, the three words on the red-and-black bumper stick taped to his locker stall are a reminder for Vick to let his actions do his talking.
Coaches have entrusted Vick to lead the team, and he's the main reason why the Eagles (7-3) are first in the NFC East and have become legitimate contenders to reach the Super Bowl. Philadelphia is 5-0 in games Vick has started and finished.
''First of all, he's got uncommon talent; we all know that. But then he's put the hard work physically and he's put the preparation in mentally,'' offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. ''He's getting a lot of attention right now and he's earned it.''
Teammates respect Vick and consider him a field leader, a guy they go to for advice and look to for inspiration.
''He's not just the quarterback, but he's one of us and we can relate to him,'' wide receiver Jason Avant said. ''He can share his thoughts with us, and we can share our thoughts with him, and that's what makes him powerful in the locker room because he's humble. He's been through so many experiences, he's willing to listen. He's been that way since he's been here.''
In Philly, at least, Vick has won over the fans, too.
There was an outcry from animal rights groups and dog lovers when the Eagles signed Vick in August 2009, less than a month after he finished serving 18 months in prison and two months of home confinement for his role in a dogfighting ring. And more than a few eyebrows were raised this summer, after a shooting occurred at Vick's birthday party.
But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed no disciplinary action, and has since praised the quarterback for turning his life around.
Fans, meanwhile, gave Vick a rousing ovation when he was introduced at the Linc before a 27-17 win over the New York Giants last Sunday.
Vick takes it all in stride. He's been a hero before and lost everything. Those around him on a daily basis know he appreciates his second chance and doesn't take anything for granted.
''He's a true professional,'' safety Quintin Mikell said. ''I don't know what it was like when he was in Atlanta, but seeing him come in here, and really putting in the work like everyone else, even though he's a superstar is really a good thing.''
They used to call Vick ''Superman'' when he played with the Falcons. He went to three Pro Bowls and led Atlanta to one NFC championship game - a loss to Donovan McNabb and the Eagles in January 2005.
But Vick wasn't a complete quarterback back then. He was a dynamic player who relied on incredible talent to make big plays with his strong arm and lightning-quick speed.
When Vick arrived in Philadelphia, he had a career completion percentage of just 53.8 percent. He had thrown 71 touchdown passes, but also 52 interceptions. Vick had more career 100-yard rushing games (8) than 250-yard passing games (6) in Atlanta. He already has thrown for 250 yards four times in seven games this year.
The difference in Vick's game now is patience in the pocket. He buys time by scrambling and finds open receivers rather than running at the first sign of trouble. He's become more accurate: he has a 62.8 percent completion percentage. He protects the ball: zero interceptions and only one lost fumble.
Vick leads the NFL with a 108.7 passer rating and has 1,608 yards passing and 11 touchdowns. He's also run for 375 yards and five scores.
Eagles coach Andy Reid credits Vick's success to his dedication and work ethic. Vick admits he didn't spend much time honing his skills when he played for the Falcons.
''I think he literally said that he was one of the last ones in the building and one of the first ones out,'' Reid said. ''And that's not the way it's been here. He's really one of the first ones here and the last ones out.''
Vick credits Reid, Mornhinweg, quarterbacks coach James Urban and others on the staff for helping him take his game to a higher level.
''If I could've started my career here, where would I be? Would I have ended up in some of the things that I got involved in?'' Vick said. ''You never know, but hey, you can't say that, you can only think about it and wonder and just appreciate being in this position now. I can't say what we would've accomplished, but I think as far as my growth in the passing game, it would've been expedited tremendously.''
Vick had four head coaches and several coordinators during his time in Atlanta. He clearly benefited from watching McNabb run Philadelphia's offense last year and from working with Reid and Mornhinweg, who have groomed many top QBs.
''I will tell you Michael had good coaching in the past and I want to think that he has good coaching now,'' Reid said. ''But at the same time it's really the player. If the player doesn't want to absorb it then he's not going to absorb it. And Michael, since he's been here has been just a sponge with things and taken everything in, trying it, and then relaying that from practice to the game field. And so, a lot of credit, and most of the credit, should go to him and his approach to the game right now.''
The coaches made some adjustments to Vick's throwing platform, so he has better balance and his feet are in a proper position when he throws. Now Vick is drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer Steve Young.
''They're very similar,'' Mornhinweg said. ''The makeup is there on the field as far as talent and ability. Mike has really worked hard to get to the level that Steve worked hard at. Steve ended up being one of the most accurate passers ever in the history of the game; first ballot Hall of Famer. So Mike has worked very hard, very diligent. He's very focused, he's very determined to continue to work to get to that level and then to stay at that level.''
Young won a Super Bowl with San Francisco. Thanks to Vick, the Eagles have a chance to win one in a season that began without much promise.